A Worldview Approach to Ethical Thinking

Chuck FullerChuck Fuller, Uncategorized

In his book, The Reason for God, Tim Keller considers what he calls the “free floating” morality of the postmodern era. It isn’t that people have no ethical convictions. They actually have rather strong—even fierce—convictions, evidenced by the shrill tone of cultural debates. These convictions, though, are “free floating” in that they aren’t rooted in principles and fail to withstand sound logic. In other words, convictions have morphed into mere opinions apart from good reasons. As a colleague often says, “You’re free to have your own opinions, but not your own facts.” The missing ingredient in our moral thinking is the failure to ground opinions in a truthful foundation.

Unfortunately, Bible-believing Christians, while seeking clarity, may unwittingly advance the problem. When approached with an ethical issue or dilemma, they run to the Bible and scramble to find a few specific verses that either affirm or deny one side of the case in view. In some cases, like adultery, this is easy, because the Bible speaks clearly and repeatedly on the issue—the Ten Commandments, the words of Jesus, and the teaching of the apostles can be assembled to form a substantive, cumulative case. On other issues, though, such an approach may not render the desired clarity. Take the lottery for example. One is hard pressed to gather a collection of verses that speak specifically to the issue of state-sponsored gambling. Sure, one may appeal to principles and apply them to the situation (such as Romans 13:10, “Love does no harm to a neighbor), but equally well-meaning Christians may see the casting of lots as a sanctioned form of gambling. Other issues, like war or social drinking, are often treated the same way. Without a Bible verse that says, “thou shalt not drink,” or “thou shalt not go to war,” some will place various Bible verses on an imaginary weight scale. If one finds more verses that seem to convey a “pro” position than verses that convey a “con” position, the “pro” side wins, and vice-versa.

In the case that a believer can neither gather an adequate sample of verses nor find conclusive biblical evidence, he or she is left to seek a position by more subjective, sometimes spiritualized means, such as prayer, intuition, and searching for guidance from the Holy Spirit. Granted, the Bible allows for a few grey areas and, in these areas, encourages wisdom and responsibility without offering absolutes (see Romans 14), but these Christian approaches can be as “free floating” as the postmodern position. What if one person believes he has enough verses to certify a “pro” position, but his rival discovers a few more verses for the “con” position? Does it become a 1-up game until the Scriptures are exhausted? What if one believes that, through prayer and introspection, the Spirit has led him to a firm “con” position, while another—by the same method—is equally convinced of the “pro” side?

Fortunately, the Bible isn’t a rule book that addresses every specific scenario, a puzzle to be worked, or a jungle of hidden clues to be discovered. The Bible contains rules, of course, but more importantly, it unveils a grand story, a metanarrative. The Bible reveals truth about God, the world, humanity, sin, salvation, and destiny. Placed in broad categories, the Bible tells of creation, fall, and redemption. God made a good and perfect world, the pinnacle of which is humanity, made in his own image. Humanity rebelled against the Creator and fell into sin, bringing the curse of death and plunging creation into a distorted, perverted state. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, entered history, fulfilled the demands of righteousness, suffered the due penalty for sin, and rose again to conquer sin’s wage—death. He forgives, redeems, and transforms those who trust him by faith, saving them from the judgment to come. Jesus has promised to return and, when he does, initiate a new creation in which the world will not only be set right again, but will be more glorious that it was originally.

Because this grand scheme offers the truth about the world, it can be truthfully applied to help guide believers when faced with moral choices. Consider the three components of the Christian worldview (creation, fall, redemption), and use them as a lens for interpreting an ethical scenario by asking specific questions. Consider the questions and issues below.

  1. CREATION: What component of God’s good, original design is under threat or needs protecting? If alcoholic beverages are in view, sobriety is required to rule the earth well—a creation mandate. On the issue of abortion, human life is made in God’s image and inherently valuable, therefore must be protected. Gambling threatens the mutually beneficial nature of human transactions.
  2. FALL: How might a good component of God’s design be distorted or perverted? With alcohol use, drunkenness hinders perception, fosters incorrect action, and prevents sober stewardship of life. Abortion requires devaluing—even dehumanizing—human life, in order to justify the killing. Gambling can feed selfishness and greed, leading one to take unjust risks that make transactions harmful instead of beneficial.
  3. REDEMPTION: How does the gospel provide healing and hope in the situation? In all situations, there is forgiveness of sins. Through Jesus, the debt of guilt is cancelled (Col 2:13-15). The grace that saves us from the penalty of sin also rescues us from its power (Rom 6), resulting in change. Finally, Jesus will return and make right all that has gone wrong (Rev 21-22), which gives us hope.

Christians should not approach moral scenarios as biblical empiricists, searching to collect some statistically significant amount of data to tilt the scale. Rather, believers should approach ethical choices in the way the Bible itself addresses them—in context of the grand scheme God has revealed.